Ultra Modular PSU  (Source: Ultra Products)
Ultra patented the modular power supply in a computer, and is now seeking triple damages from competitors

For many PC enthusiasts and case modification fans out there one of the best inventions ever was the modular power supply unit. Modular power supplies allow a user to remove an unnecessary cable from the business end of the power supply if its not in use, reducing the clutter of a computer case.

Ultra Products Inc. was the first to patent this technology in 2004.  The USPTO issued to the patent in November of 2006 under U.S. Patent Number 7,133,293. Since then, the company issued 22 confidential written warnings to various power supply manufacturers informing them that they allow users to breach their patent for "Personal computer power supply installed within a case of a personal computer."

Ultra filed the suit in the United States District of Florida Orlando Division and named as defendants no less than 22 of the top power supply makers. Named in the suit as defendants are Antec, Inc., Channel Well Technology Co. Ltd., Channel Well Technology Co. U.S.A., Inc., Corsair Memory, Inc., Enhance Electronics Co. Ltd., E-Power Technology/PCMCIS, SPI Electronic Co. Ltd., FSP Group USA Corp., Koolance USA, Mushkin, Inc., OCZ Technology, Sea Sonic Electronics Co. Ltd., Silverstone Technology, Inc., Spire-Bytecom Fanner Corporation, Tagan Technology Co. Ltd., Tagan Technology Co., Thermaltake Technology Co. Ltd., Thermaltake, Inc., Topower Computer Industrial Co. Ltd., Topower Computer U.S.A., Inc., Zalman Technology Company Ltd. and Zalman USA, Inc.

Unlike most other patent infringement lawsuits, Ultra Products is not seeking an injunction against the 22 other companies.  Ultra argues that since the other manufacturers were informed in 2006 and early 2007 (shortly after the patent was granted) they willfully infringed on Ultra's intellectual property. Thus, Ultra is seeking up to triple damages against the power supply manufacturers -- the maximum allowed by law. 

Ultra Products, for many years synonymous with the TigerDirect house brand, could not reached for comment.

Several of the other companies named in the lawsuit agreed to speak off the record.  One manufacturer claims that the patent granted to Ultra will likely not hold up in court. He says, "The U.S. patent office does not have the manpower to examine cases to an extensive degree anymore.  The examiners rubber stamp everything that isn't easy to contest and let the courts figure it out afterward."

This may have some truth to it, as another patent describes a "Computer with modular power supply assembly in separate bay" issued to Hewlett-Packard in April 2000.  Several episodes of the now defunct TV show The Screen Savers discussed the merits of modular power supplies as early as 1999.

Three of the largest manufacturers named in the suit banded together in early 2007 after receiving the original notifications from Ultra in early 2007.  This coalition claims it spent more than $250,000 in a prior art search, but would not disclose the results of that search to DailyTech.

Unfortunately the case is more convoluted than that.  Another defendant in the lawsuit, whom also wished to remain nameless, states, "This isn't so much a case of Ultra versus power supply manufacturers.  It's actually a case of Ultra versus end-users. By putting a modular power supply inside a computer, the end-users violated Ultra's patent."

The argument goes that power supply manufacturers aided end-users in this violation by selling hardware that allows end-users to violate the 7,133,293 patent.

Of the 22 companies named in the suit, seven were unaware Ultra had even filed against them as of April 9, 2008.

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